Recently in Performances
Nixon in China is a three-act opera with a libretto by Alice Goodman and music by John Adams that was first seen at the Houston Grand Opera on October 22, 1987. It was the first of a notable line of operas by the composer.
It is thanks to Céline Ricci, mezzo-soprano and director of Ars Minerva, that we have been able to again hear Daniele Castrovillari’s exquisite melodies because she is the musician who has brought his 1662 opera La Cleopatra to life.
Lyric Opera of Chicago, in association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has staged a production of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser with an estimable cast.
Puccini and his fellow verismo-ists are commonly associated with explosions of unbridled human passion and raw, violent pain, but in this revival (by Justin Way) of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, directorial understatement together with ravishing scenic beauty are shown to be more potent ways of enabling the sung voice to reveal the emotional depths of human tragedy.
Rarely, very rarely does a Tosca come around that you can get excited about. Sure, sometimes there is good singing, less often good conducting but rarely is there a mise en scène that goes beyond stock opera vocabulary.
The Nash Ensemble’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations at the Wigmore Hall were crowned by a recital that typifies the Nash’s visionary mission. Above, the dearly-loved founder, Amelia Freeman, a quietly revolutionary figure in her own way, who has immeasurably enriched the cultural life of this country.
On March 7, 2015, Arizona Opera presented Dan Rigazzi’s production of Die Zauberflöte in Tucson. Inspired by the works of René Magritte, designer John Pollard filled the stage with various sizes of picture frames, windows, and portals from which he leads us into Mozart and Schikaneder’s dream world.
There are some concert programmes which are not just wonderful in their execution but also delight and satisfy because of the ‘rightness’ of their composition. This Wigmore Hall recital by soprano Carolyn Sampson and three period-instrument experts of arias and instrumental pieces by Henry Purcell was one such occasion.
It has been a cold and gray winter in the south of France (where I live) made splendid by some really good opera, followed just now by splendid sunshine at Trafalgar Square and two exquisite productions at English National Opera.
At long last, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny has come to the Royal Opera House. Kurt Weill’s teacher, Busoni, remains scandalously ignored, but a season which includes house firsts both of this opera and Szymanowsi’s King Roger, cannot be all bad.
Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland returned to the Barbican,
London, shape-shifted like one of Alice’s adventures. The BBC Symphony
Orchestra was assembled en masse, almost teetering off stage, creating
a sense of tension. “Eat me, Drink me”. Was Lewis Carroll on hallucinogens
or just good at channeling the crazy world of the subconscious?
Dominic Cooke’s 2005 staging of The Magic Flute and Richard Jones’s 1998 production of Hansel and Gretel have been brought together for Welsh National Opera’s spring tour under the unifying moniker, Spellbound.
Gaetano Donizetti and Malcolm Arnold might seem odd operatic bedfellows, but this double bill by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama offered a pair of works characterised by ‘madness, misunderstandings and mistaken identity’ which proved witty, sparkling and imaginatively realised.
Saturday, February 28, 2015, was the first night for Los Angeles Opera’s revival of its 2009 presentation of The Barber of Seville, a production by Emilio Sagi, which comes originally from Teatro Real in Madrid in cooperation with Lisbon’s Teatro San Carlos. Sagi and onsite director, Trevor Ross, made comedy the focus of their production and provided myriad sight gags which kept the audience laughing.
Commenting on her recent, highly acclaimed CD release of late-nineteenth-century song, Chansons Perpétuelles (Naive: V5355), Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux remarked ‘it’s that intimate side that interests me
I wanted to emphasise the genuinely embodied, physical side of the sensuality [in Fauré]’.
An evening of strange-bedfellow one-acts in high-concept stagings, mindbogglingly delightful.
On February 19, 2015, Pacific Symphony presented its annual performance of a semi-staged opera. This year’s presentation at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California, featured Georges Bizet’s Carmen. Director Dean Anthony used the front of the stage and a few solid set pieces by Scenic Designer Matt Scarpino to depict the opera’s various scenes.
Although the English National Opera has been decidedly sparing with its Wagner for quite some time now, its recent track record, leaving aside a disastrous Ring, has perhaps been better than that at Covent Garden.
On Friday February 20, 2015, San Diego Opera presented Mozart’s Don Giovanni in a production by Nicholas Muni originally seen at Cincinnati Opera.
In a production first seen in Houston several years ago, and now revised by its director John Caird, Puccini’s Tosca has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago with two casts, partially different, scheduled into March of the present season.
29 May 2014
Dmitri Hvorostovsky in Los Angeles
Siberian born baritone, Dmitri Hvorostovsky returned to Dorothy Chandler Hall on May 22nd with a unique all Russian song recital which included songs composed to Pushkin’s poetry and Dmitri Shostakovich’s Suite on Verses of Michelangelo Buonarroti.
Hvorostovsky along with pianist Ivari Ilja, had been touring the United States with this and an alternate all Russian program. Though reviewers agreed that their programs were unvaryingly gloomy, the glamorous and sonorous Hvorostovksy received glowing reviews and attracted large audiences - particularly Russian speakers - wherever he appeared. Likely, he is the only classical vocalist who could have succeeded with such a dark, single language program. Hardly anything new can be added to the myriad descriptions of the dark velvety texture of Hvorostovky’s voice, or to the repeated raves about his breath control and legato singing. Yet perhaps he was a bit worried about introducing all that gloom to Southern California. As though his natural good looks, silver hair and easy smile might not be enough to carry Angelinos through two hours of minor keyed laments on lost loves, anger and death, the baritone appeared in an outfit on the Liberace side of stage wear: a form fitting tuxedo with long glitter-paved lapels. A flashing pendant and ring added to his sparkle.
He didn’t need it. His presence and voice were enough. Where a powerful baritone voice, such as Hvorostovsky possesses can be fully released in opera houses in roles such as Iago, in Otello or di Luna in Il Trovatore, song recitals are more intimate affairs. They require more varied gradations of sound and subtler techniques to communicate the meaning of every word, every musical phrase. Few opera singers have this gift. Hvorostovsky is able to move his audience’s emotions with the slightest gradations of sound, the most minimal motion of head, or hand. However, for this performance, most unusually for a recitalist, (and distractingly, for his audience), he kept an enlarged score on a music stand, to which he referred throughout the program.
The composers the Pushkin songs ranged from Glinka, a Pushkin’s contemporary to Sviridov, who was born in 1915 and lived until 1998. I have no idea of the quality of any of the Pushkin poems in Russian. One has to assume they were meaningful enough to inspire composers. However, many of the unattributed translations in the program were surprisingly lackluster and unpoetic and Hvorostovky’s interpretations for whatever reason, echoed this impression. The music of the earliest of these composition, particularly, seemed almost a warm up for the baritone. The more harmonically elaborate later songs by Nicolai Medtner and Sviridov were more compelling both for the singer and his audience. The Medtner songs too, offered the first of many opportunities for Ivari Ilja to display his virtuosity.
Shostakovitch came upon Michelangelo’s sonnets in 1974, shortly after they appeared in a Russian translation by Avram Efros. Many of these poems, written in the Italian artist’s late years, reflected the composer’s own regrets, angers and the despair he was suffering during the last years of his own troubled life. Shostakovich chose eleven sonnets, which he titled “Truth” “Morning”; “Love” “Separation” “Anger,” “Dante,” “To an Exile,” “Creativity,” “Night,” “Death” and “Immortality.” He scored them starkly for piano and bass voice, and once described the suite as consisting of “lyricism, and tragedy, and drama, and two ecstatic panegyrics in honor of Dante.” Although Shostakovich is said to have told composer Aram Katchaturian that he did not intend to orchestrate the work, he did so just before his death in August 1975, and never heard the orchestral version. Dark and depressing, even angry as these songs are, they grip the soul. The Chandler Hall audience was not asked to withhold its applause at any time during the program and rewarded each and every one of Hvorostovky’s Pushkin songs enthusiastically While the lyricism, intensity and devotion to text that Hvorostovsky brought to the Shostakovich-Michelangelo suite could not restrain the baritone’s devoted fans from responding to each song, the applause was pallid, brief and restrained as though they were torn between wanting to express their joys at hearing an adored artist, and awareness of the somber message he was delivering.
Hvorostovsky rewarded his adoring public with three encores, an impassioned Iago’s Credo, the lyrical Valente-TagliagerriPassione, and an a capella rendering of Goodbye Happiness, a Russian folk song. Each displayed a different aspect of Hvorostovsky’s artistry and stirred his audience to wild cheers, but did nothing to elevate the evening’s downbeat philosophical message.